New IP’s that are narrative driven tend to all suffer from the same mechanical issues. Much like games like Brutal Legend and the original Mass Effect, the narrative and environment were prioritized in the development process, resulting in a game that had a wonderful, engrossing story and setting, but some faulty or under-developed game mechanics. If you like a good, thought provoking tale, Enslaved will leave you enraptured from start to finish. But if you find nit-picky mechanics to be frustrated, the game will prove to be a harsh master.
There is one undisputable fact about Enslaved: the game is beautiful. The landscapes can best be described as lush ruins. Taking place roughly 200 years after the fall of civilization, much of the early game takes place in the remnants of New York City. You’ll climb about Penn Station (or, rather, what’s left of it) and cross a decaying Brooklyn bridge. This game is to New York City what Fallout 3 was to DC, except that instead of a wasteland, the city is overgrown with foliage, leaving it vibrant and green. Color is everywhere. You’ll really enjoy the view playing this one (although the frame rate does tend to dip when there’s a lot going on screen).
You’ll also get to interact with the stunning environments, as Enslaved is, first and foremost, a puzzle-solving platformer. I will say, though, that none of the puzzles are particularly difficult and the platforming is rather simplistic as well. Your character can “jump”, which is to say that if you’re at the proper place, you can hit the jump button and the right direction and you’ll leap to whatever you’re supposed to leap to. If there’s nothing to jump on, you’re “dodge” because it’s the same button. This felt a bit constricting, as I could interact and climb and jump, but only at a few pre-designated points (which, to be fair, were given a nice shine to make them stick out from the environment). It’s comparable to the platforming in Uncharted 2, for better or for worse.
In the game you’ll play as Monkey, a wonderer who escapes a slave ship only to be put into bondage by Tripp (who took down the ship that allowed Monkey to get away in the first place). Tripp puts a slave helmet on Monkey’s head, rigging it to force him to do her bidding. The narrative follows the development of their relationship from these tenuous beginnings, and their relationship (such as it is) was what I found to be the most compelling part of the game. The dialogue between the two of them is very well written, and as far as AI partners go, she’s definitely one of the best I’ve had.
At times, you’ll have to protect her from mechs (the enemies in the game are all various sorts of robots). Protection missions have always frustrated me in games, but these are very well done, and as I felt a very real connection with her character, I could feel Monkey’s urgency when she was under attack. There are also a few sequences where Monkey and Tripp advance under fire, one distracting enemies so the other can advance. I enjoyed this part of the game (though I think there weren’t enough sequences like that).
At some point, you’ll end up controlling Monkey in combat. Monkey fights using a staff that can fire off various pulse charges (as long as you have the ammo), making it both a range and a melee weapon. The hit detection in ranged combat was a little wonky, as it was much easier to hit targets that were far away than it was to hit targets standing right next to you. The melee combat consists of stuns, light and heavy attacks, which, when used at the proper times, made you pretty much invincible. You can also block (though I found it almost completely unnecessary) and rolls (which is more necessary in the boss fights than fighting your average mech). The combat lacked the depth of many other games of this ilk (it’s not God of War… not even close) but the boss fights were sufficiently varied to keep me interested, with the final boss being particularly challenging and unique.
Enslaved is a wonderful new IP, but has the same problem most new IP’s have. Not all of the concepts have been completely fleshed out, which leads to a few unfulfilling aspects in the gameplay. But the universe is well fleshed out, and the story and characters are entertaining and engrossing. The ending in particular takes narrative risks that you don’t often see in video games, avoiding the cliché which seems so prevalent nowadays. If you want to explore a different take on the fall of civilization and can look past a few unfortunate gameplay elements, Enslaved is certainly the game for you.
4 out of 5